The city of Fresno has strengthened and extended its shelter-in-place emergency ordinance through May 6 to combat the coronavirus.
The previous shelter-in-place order was set to expire at the end of Sunday.
At a Friday morning teleconference, Mayor Lee Brand announced new measures that include requiring employees at essential businesses to wear face masks.
“The next two weeks are critical to slowing and eventually stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Brand said. “I know we asking our residents and businesses to make tremendous sacrifices, but I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t willing to make the same sacrifices and if I didn’t think it was the best way to protect everyone in our community.”
The order takes effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m.
Social Distancing Also Now Mandatory
Businesses will also be required to enforce social distancing, including limiting the number of people in a store at a given time. Customers in line will have to be 6 feet apart. And, businesses must post social-distancing signs at their entry points.
The order follows CDC recommendations made last week and a similar move by the city of Los Angeles.
While employees must wear masks, that rule does not apply to the general public.
Businesses not following the new rules could face fines or closure.
No Gathering in Public
The shelter-in-place order now forbids gatherings in place of any size. It previously allowed gatherings of 10 or fewer people.
Brand said that he’s looking for voluntary compliance with the new order. Fines reach as high as $1,000, and arrests are possible.
But Brand said he would rather operate with a softer hand and it’s not his intention to have people arrested.
“We don’t have the resources to arrest our way out of this. We have no intention doing that,” Brand said.
Only “egregious or repeat offenders” would be subject to penalty.
On March 18, Brand’s office issued an order for a voluntary shelter-in-place, to go into effect the following day. Hours later, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory shelter-in-place statewide.
Outdoor Activities Permitted With Rules
Fresno residents are allowed to leave their homes for essential activities, such as grocery shopping or medical appointments. They may also travel to and from work, provided work is at an essential business.
Outdoor activities are permitted, provided social distancing requirements of at least 6 feet are met.
“I’ve ever seen so many people walking dogs. I need to take my dog out for a walk. He’s probably bored like I am,” Brand said. “All those activities can go on. The parks are still open, too, as long as people are responsible and follow the guidelines.”
Parks Closed for Easter, but Will Reopen
Parks remain open, but will essentially be limited to green space use. Most recreational activities within the park such as sports courts, picnic areas, and playgrounds are closed. Parking lots surrounding city parks are blocked off as well.
The order allows the city manager to shut down parks altogether if necessary for social distancing compliance.
City parks will be closed Saturday and Sunday to avoid the traditional Easter weekend crowds. Brand said private security will patrol parks to keep people away.
City Law Allows Punishment
While the order (2020-13) does not specifically mention punishment such as arrests or fines, it is allowed through other city laws.
The city’s code dictating an emergency ordinance allows for a misdemeanor punishment for not following an order.
Other parts of city law allow a fine of up to $1,000 or a maximum of one year in jail.
“This fine structure was there to begin with. Those were always tools available. We’d prefer, again, to get voluntary compliance,” Brand said.
Split Reaction Among Council
Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias praised Brand’s actions.
“I am in full support of the mayor’s action today and only wished it would have been done sooner allowing our community to be better protected,” Arias said. “Those who still don’t see the urgency for these measures need to be reminded that this is not about politics or philosophical debates but protecting our residents’ health and safety.”
Councilman Garry Bredefeld said that he was opposed to the latest order.
“This is the heavy hand of government acting in an authoritarian way,” Bredefeld said. “It’s absurd that Mayor Brand is now ordering people to do what they’ve been doing all along in terms of social distancing and following CDC guidelines. Because he is now ordering a lockdown instead of it being a voluntary ‘shelter in place’ and employees in the private sector are being forced to wear facial masks, people are now subject to a misdemeanor if not compliant.
“This could result in not only a $1,000 fine but also a year in jail, which the Mayor hid at his press conference. The mayor is not a physician yet he is forcing people to wear masks when doctors at the CDC have at this point not mandated them. Whether it’s Brand arbitrarily shutting down many ‘non-essential’ businesses that could remain open following CDC guidelines, or it’s threatening people with fines who are already complying with social distancing, we are witnessing authoritarian local government in real-time.”
Brand Expects Peak in Late April
Brand extended the shelter-in-place order to May 6 based on modeling that indicates COVID-19 cases will peak in late April.
He expressed optimism that life will return to normal.
“There is a concern and anxiety in our community, but there is also hope,” Brand said. “I see it every day and the stories I hear about people discovering new innovation and technology to stay connected with family and friends; volunteers providing food and medicine or making masks for the elderly; and the hundreds of encouraging and entertaining videos that let us know people are still OK.”
Where to Get Information
Information on all of Fresno emergency orders is available by calling 3-1-1 or at www.fresno.gov.
Similar Order in Clovis
The city of Clovis also announced that enforcement of shelter-in-place and social distancing policies could lead to $1,000 fines, with no warnings necessary.
But, city spokesman Chad McCollum says his city also would rather use a gentle hand.